DATE: 8/8/23 LOCATION: L-14 ASSETS: ACF-7823-A, “Peppers”; Agent Isaac Cotta EQUIPMENT: Lunch PURPOSE: Earlier discussion on Godhood.
Pepper was getting really sick of being nervous lately. There had been a consistent feeling of nerves since Tuesday the 1st, and she was thoroughly sick of it. She knew that being nervous about it wasn’t going to help her, but the soft voice in the back of her head whispered to her. His voice hummed a song to her, saying that it was alright to be nervous, but that there was nothing to fear. It just made her more nervous, and not less. She bit her bottom lip as she paced, trying to ignore it as the Dead God whispered reassurances to her.
Finally, she hissed back in a pointed thought, “Shut up! Just stop! You’re making it hard to think!”
The tendrils that had been at the forefront of her mind receded, and with it so did this voice of the Dead God. She never could have foreseen something like this happening. That meeting with Eurydice had left her with only half her mind space, or maybe it was soul space. Pepper knew she still had her full mental capacity, and it wasn’t even impeded by the Dead God speaking to her. It was just the most direct noise without sound that Pepper had ever “heard”, and it was the equivalent of having headphones in with an audiobook playing while you tried to talk to someone.
She shuddered at the almost tickling sensation inside her mind as the Dead God pulled to the back of her mind. She could feel the places where he had merged into her pull in a way she shouldn’t physically feel. But then, this was an Eldritch god. Regular rules didn’t apply. In all honestly, she was more surprised at just how… amicable the Dead God was. Friendly, even, for the most part. Pepper thought these things were supposed to be unknowable and horrible creatures, but hers just seemed like it wanted to help her.
From the back of Her mind, He reached out a single tendril and caressed Her. She was struggling to understand His motives, unaware that they were as simple as He claimed them to be. For that, He was sorry. Even though She could see into His mind as easily as He could into Hers, but for some reason She was choosing to make this merge take longer than necessary. If She simply embraced Him as He did Her, it would take only a few dozen weeks to complete. Instead, it was going to take Him months to complete.
“I do only wish to help you, Pepper. Why don’t you trust me when I tell you that everything will be alright?”
She shook her head and finally looked at the door she’d been pacing by for the last ten minutes. The nameplate on it read Agent I. Cotta. She fished out her phone and looked at the time. It was roughly lunch hour, which meant Isaac should be in his office. She sighed deeply and sent one last warning thought to the Dead God before she walked up to the door, balanced the bag on her arm, and knocked. “Isaac? It’s Pepper. Can I come in?”
Isaac may or may not have been playing Pokemon: Scarlet Version when the knock came at his door. He’d heard someone outside for the last ten minutes, so he’d gotten back to a safe place to save the game when the knock finally came. He still took the time to turn it off to conserve the battery and put it in a drawer before he responded to Cody’s girlfriend.
“Come in, Pepper.”
She’d called him Isaac, so he called her Pepper. He might be her location manager, but he was also her boyfriend’s best friend. Cody at least had the benefit of Pepper’s best friend being at a different location. And Charlie not being his location manager.
So Isaac determined before the door opened that it’d be best to keep it casual until Pepper indicated something business. She’d find him in his armor, but that wasn’t uncommon. His helmet and gloves were set aside on the desk, and he was clearing a space so that whatever she needed, he could handle. He saw the bag, though, and raised an eyebrow over his faded green eyes.
“I wasn’t expecting lunch. You sure you weren’t looking for Codes?” The tease, he hoped, would help alleviate any existing tension.
Pepper opened the door and slipped inside, obviously nervous. Her shoulders were tensed, but she still gave an easy and friendly smile at his joke. She raised the canvas bag up a little in response. “Oh, he and I have plans for dinner. No, it’s definitely you I’m interested in speaking to. I don’t know if you like sushi, but if you do, I brought plenty.”
She moved into the room, setting the bag down on the edge of his desk. She looked over at his shelf of figurines, a faint smile on her face as she recognized several of the Nintendo characters on display. Pepper wasn’t much of a real gamer, but she’d been given a Nintendo Gameboy Advanced and a NES as a child. She was familiar with Nintendo and had even bought a Switch in recent years to continue playing Legend of Zelda and Pokémon games. So while she didn’t know every figurine perched behind his desk, she knew quite a few.
She’d certainly bring that up later. For now, she stood there, a distant look in her eyes as she wrung her hands in front of her. Then, a whisper in the back of her head. “Don’t tell him. Just have lunch and leave. They’ll lock you away, Pepper.”
She frowned and pulled up the chair on the other side of Isaac’s desk and sat down. She gave a nervous glance to Isaac while shoving the Dead God back with a forceful thought. “I don’t believe you. I won’t believe you. Isaac won’t lock me up, and even if he did, it would be because he thought it was the best course of action, and I trust him.”
He asked it in the soft voice that certainly had an edge, but only that of command, not anger or even distaste. Don’t waste breath, don’t waste time. Those were two of Isaac’s life mottos. He didn’t make excuses, and he didn’t mince words.
It was part of the reason why people preferred to go to Cody with their problems.
He wasn’t just replying to her words, though. There was something in her eyes, something bothering her. He didn’t think it had anything to do with Cody. She would be nervous if it did, but there was a slight glaze to her eyes for a few seconds before she sat down across from him, like she’d been deep in thought. Isaac thought he’d recognized it from somewhere, but couldn’t place it just yet.
He let the pause hang awkwardly, then realized there was something that could be hedged in without the tone of command. He cleared his throat, and gestured to the bag.
“If you have cream cheese or philadelphia rolls, I’m all in.”[/colort] It wasn’t his first choice, but he didn’t object to sushi the way some might. Anything with cream cheese or salmon would be alright, in his book. Even if it was raw.
Pepper gave a nervous, sideway smile and scooted some random sushi rolls she had brought until she found a Philadelphia roll. She had bought several types, being uncertain as to what kind he might like, including a fried crab roll, a rainbow dragon roll, and a standard California roll. She pulled out the rainbow dragon roll for herself and then produced two sets of chopsticks– as well as a collapsible metal fork. She placed one set of chopsticks and the fork on the table for Isaac to choose from. She took the bag with its other rolls and sat it on the ground by her chair. Then she stared for a moment at her container before looking up at Isaac.
There was a look on her face, one that was clear and easy to read: “I’m terrified to tell you this”. She swallowed, and put a hand to her chest. From the back of her mind, a tendril reached forward and caressed her, trying to ease her anxiety. She shoved it away, with as much force as her psyche allowed. For a moment her face twitched, the only outward sign that anything was happening.
“It’s obvious something is wrong, isn’t it? I’m not good at hiding anything. I don’t like to hide things, Agent Cotta.” She said it softly. There was the transition, from her attempt at being friendly to sudden seriousness. She was glad that Isaac could read her like an open book. It would help if she ever started to change, which was one of her real fears. She feared that the “wall” being gone meant that she would start to become less herself.
She looked up at him and was silent for a moment before continuing. “Something has happened, and I needed to tell either Cody or you. Given the nature of what’s changed, I picked you. Cody wouldn’t… I figure that you would act more rationally than he would, under the circumstances.”
His face went from his relaxed neutral to a little smile as she produced the sushi. He helped maneuver things out of the way as needed, but gave her the space to form her reaction. He wore the silence comfortably.
Her fear didn’t bother him, or at least didn’t affect him. He knew how most people considered him, given he was a security agent first. There was this image people had of security agents, dictatorial in how they handled the rules. It didn’t help, or rather it did, that Cody was so much better with people. It meant that he’d hear about any issues, and usually help advise.
But, as Pepper had noticed, Isaac was much better at acting rationally. He adjusted the chopsticks in his hand with a little maneuvering as he remembered how to work the things, all while taking note of her body language and facial expressions. Something was very much so bothering her. She wouldn’t have come to him otherwise. More than that, she’d normally go to Kallie Reed for things like that.
He didn’t say anything. He remained relaxed, maintained that slight smile. You don’t have to hide things from me, his body said, in a way that she’d pick up on subconsciously. He didn’t even need to say something. Just nodded, for her to continue. I’m listening to you.
He was listening. That was good. He wanted her to talk, and was encouraging her to continue in his silent way. The young woman took in a shaky but deep breath. She held it for a moment, and from the back of her mind, he spoke again. “You don’t have to tell him, Pepper. You don’t have to tell anyone. Just accept me and you’ll–”
“It’s talking to me,” she said, cutting the voice off. “The godspark. Er, the Dead God. Whatever we’re going to refer to it as. It started talking to me. I had a run-in with a telepathic denizen in the Dark Dimension and it broke some kind of wall in my mind. A wall that he says was keeping us separate. Now our thoughts are crossing, and it’s talking to me, and I’m seeing images of it in my reflection.”
Pepper picked up her chopsticks and used them to shift around the pieces of sushi in her little container. She had looked down the moment the Dead God started to talk to her, and only then looked back up. She heard the equivalent of a hiss in her head.[font color=gold] “Fine. Tell him. Don’t blame me if they lock you up, Pepper.”[/font color]
She visibly flinched and put a hand to her forehead. Then her hands began to shake. Pepper didn’t want to be locked away. It was her biggest fear at that point. Pepper had been alone in a CU for a large portion of her childhood, and she didn’t think that she could go back to that. Not again. She continued to explain the situation. “I, uhm, I don’t think it's influencing me. Not really. But it’s there and it's talking to me and making me see it in my reflection. And I don’t know what to do about it, Agent Cotta.”
Isaac chewed on the new information as he chewed on the first piece of sushi, which completely fit into his mouth without any shame on his part. This could be very serious, but it wasn’t unheard of. He watched her body language, the tightness, the nerves. The fear. She was still afraid of him, but that just added courage to her direct approach. He already knew that she hadn’t known how to tell Cody about her biological immortality, for personal reasons. He wasn’t sure of her reasoning behind not telling him this, but her personal concerns must be serious.
Isaac did, of course, have some concerns, but most of them were concerns already addressed by Pepper in her panicked speech. There were things he knew researchers would ask, but he wasn’t concerned with what it looked like or how it sounded. Isaac, being a security agent, was solutions oriented. And Pepper, it seemed, wanted to hear his solutions, rather than more of a fuss than she was already making.
“Well, there are a few solutions to possession. Exorcism is the easiest one, assuming it’s something that will leave. Being a deity-class entity – or Eldritch, based on what we know of the godbait – that will probably not work. One alternative is to find an expert to help you communicate with it better, if you’d rather keep it. Or, if you’d rather stop communicating, since it seems to be bothering you, we could find something or create some binding that will block it into your subconscious. It’s not my specialty, but we could talk to Hope about it, if you want. Agent Phillips, that is. She has more experience than I do in terms of creatures like the godbait and the godspark.”
It was a long statement, for Isaac, said thoughtfully. He put all of his ideas into the open at once, because that was easier than opening a back-and-forth and potentially forgetting what needed to be said. He said it slowly, so that Pepper had time to absorb statements in between them, but he did not leave enough space that she would interrupt him. There was a fine balance between being overwhelming, and being too quiet.
“If you don’t already have an appointment with Dr. Holt –” knowing Dr. Reed, she probably did, despite the pair’s history of bad blood, because Pepper’s wellbeing came first “– I would recommend that, as well. If only to better acclimate yourself to telepathic communication, whether you want it to remain open or not.”
Pepper listened to Isaac’s response with clear relief. He wasn’t immediately jumping to containment. He wasn’t going to lock her up. The relief that flooded through her loosened her posture, and she felt tears in her eyes. She wiped them away, her hands still shaking visibly, and nodded as he finished speaking. “I have an appointment with Dr. Holt. Kallie was really uncomfortable about it, but she was the one who suggested him over Dr. Eisenburg. Something about him having experience with this kind of stuff. As for what I want to do about it…”
She was quiet for a minute. The options for it were fairly limited, but it boiled down to one of two choices. Either try to break communication, or leave it open. She sat there, looking down at her sushi. From the back of her mind, a tentative thread reached out. She closed her eyes and suppressed a sigh.
“What? You can talk. It’s okay.”
“I’m sorry. Please don’t shove me back behind a wall. I know this is difficult, but I really only want what’s best for you, Pepper.”
“Why shouldn’t I? I don’t want my life to change, and you’ve already told me this is going to change everything.”
“Please. I don’t want to be alone again.”
“Alone?” She accidentally said the word out loud, her expression becoming puzzled.
“Pepper, what do you think I’ve been for the last seventeen years? I’ve been alone, inside your head. I couldn’t even talk to you. I know I did it to myself, I made the wall, but I. I realized how incredibly alone I was. I always wanted to be able to talk to you. Please don’t lock me away again.”
He could have been manipulating her. He had to have known about how deeply lonely she was as a child. He had to have seen it if he had been watching that whole time. This could have been a manipulation tactic.
… Or it could have been real, and he could have been alone in her head for almost two decades.
Pepper groaned, running her fingers through her bangs and pushing them back from her face before sighing dramatically and lifting her head to look at Isaac, her relief melting into something akin to, but not exactly, defeat. “I don’t. I don’t think I want to lock it away. I’m not afraid of it, and like I said, I don’t think it’s impairing me. The reason I was bothered is because, well. I’ll be honest, Agent Cotta, I thought that there was a chance that it might mean I was going to be contained. It’s also why I came to you before anyone else. If someone was going to be able to rationally decide what needed to be done, it would be you. And I trust you, so if you had decided that was what needed to happen, I would have gone without a fight.”
She paused and finally lifted her chopsticks, took a whole piece of sushi, tuna and all, and plopped it in her mouth, leaving room for Isaac to say whatever he felt like saying. She had started rambling again but didn’t feel nearly as embarrassed as she normally did when she caught herself. Maybe it was because she had just spent all her energy being afraid and nervous. Whatever the reason was, she just listened as she chewed.
Isaac continued to eat while Pepper processed his response. He couldn’t blame her for expecting him to go to the most extreme measures first; many security agents would consider that for the best in the situation. If he hadn’t been monitoring the situation, he might have suggested it, at least. But the current measures they were taking were all the necessary steps to finalize his decision. He was right, Dr. Reed had suggested Dr. Holt, and that made him feel better about the circumstances, even if that would worry some agents. Experience and professionalism were important, and would not have been considered if Kallie Reed was panicking over Pepper’s situation.
He watched her listen to nothing, watched her speak to air. This was not as uncommon as some Class-Bs or even Class-Cs thought it was. Telepathy, invisible anomalies, invisible personnel, various forms of symbiote and parasite, the list of possibilities went on. Given the Dead God was choosing to make contact, it didn’t surprise him in the slightest that he would choose now. He waited until she was finished with it, and finished speaking to him. Then, he addressed the last issue first over his mostly-empty tray of sushi.
“There’s still that chance,” he warned her, though there wasn’t any threat in his voice. “Should this escalate at all it might be best to put you under observation for a while until it levels out. Dr. Reed would probably resume her position as your primary researcher, should she accept it, unless it manifested in such a way that she couldn’t handle it. Visual alterations can be stressful to the human mind. There is a chance that should observation become impossible, or too difficult here, you would be moved to Nine or an affiliated location. It’s unlikely, but it would be unfair not to warn you about that.”
Alone was important. Alone reflected Ira, in a strange and almost tragic way. But Isaac wasn’t thinking about the tragedy. He separated his personal feelings from the call and response of duty, then tilted his head a little as the separation, and relationship to Ira, who changed sometimes. That actually raised another important question, and he nodded to Pepper like it was a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Under the circumstances, it was.
“I think Kallie would take that back up if she was asked to. I would trust very few people to be my primary researcher if I’m honest, but I also recognize that someone from Nine might be better suited than Kallie. Kallie is really good with anohumans– when they abide by certain laws. I’m no longer within those laws.” She took another bite and her eyes went wide at his last question. Oh. Oh, no.
“Do not panic. I know you can see now, but do not panic. Please. You could always have taken control again if you wanted to. I cannot take control from you unless you’re willing.”
“But you took control three times. I don’t think I consented to those.”
“You were… unconscious for all of those. And I could only manage it for brief periods of time. I can’t do it unless I’m drawn out, or through extreme force of willpower.”
“Yes. It has, but not recently. Very briefly, on two occasions. No, three. Twice was to speak to a specific doctor, and once was… to save my life. It says it can’t do it unless something happens to draw it out, though. And both of those times, something did happen to draw it out. And the third, well. I was really hurt, and I think the force with which I hit my head jarred it into control.”
Pepper remembered falling down the stairs and seeing the corner of the wall… and then nothing until she woke up with Kallie in the hospital wing, her head wrapped in bandages, part of her scalp shaved. But now, as she thought on it, the Dead God filled in the spaces. Her head colliding hard with the corner of the wall, the crack as it fractured her skull, and the warm spill of blood into her hair. Standing up, holding their head, and stumbling to the phone to call Kallie. Kallie carrying her to the hospital wing. It all fit in like a puzzle piece. She’d been 13 at the time, and she had been shocked that Kallie managed to carry her there.
And then the other two times. Pepper had no idea who the man was, but she could make a guess. So she did. “I think the other two times, uhm. I think I met Strings? He was, well. Very interested in the Dead God. It might not have been him, but from the description that I have been given by Kallie and others… I think it’s smart to assume it was.”
She started to scarf down the last few pieces of her sushi, as she hadn’t realized how hungry she actually was under all the nerves. Now that she had told Isaac and the first response wasn’t to lock her in a box, she was significantly more relaxed.
Her face gave him the answer he needed. He gave her time to address the matter with the Entity she carried while he finished his tray of sushi. It was a light lunch, for him, but he was glad Pepper had brought it. It was good sushi.
The first statement was relevant, in that it indicated that the entity had some concern for its host’s life. The fact that Kallie didn’t notice might be overlooked in the sense that she may have written it off as the concussion, which could be severe; if she didn’t know what symptoms to look for, she would rationalize what she did know, which was only human, even for someone who dealt regularly with the anomalous. He’d need to address the situation with her, however. Just because he was willing to give the benefit of the doubt did not mean he wouldn’t clarify before making a decision.
His face remained calm, but his eyes very slightly tightened at the mention of Councilman Strings. The second time in two months. Third, if – well, that wasn’t relevant, either. Strings having a connection to both Ira and to Pepper raised several more questions that might have simply been above his classification or outside his department, but Isaac personally doubted that.
“Why didn’t Strings address the issue, or include it in his personal research?” he asked, keeping the tightness from his voice by practice.
It was entirely possible Strings just hadn’t found it interesting enough. But the man Strings had been was a professional, strangely loyal to the Foundation to the point where other personnel considered it a good idea to make him a Councilman, including the current Leviathan. That didn’t answer his question, but he hoped that Pepper’s insight would help organize that train of thought.
“He asked him not to. He promised.” She parrotted the statement, then blinked and frowned. “That’s what he says. The reason why the Councilman didn’t say anything.”
She closed her eyes and thought about it. The Dead God provided her the pieces of the memories- the strange ritual that had initially drawn him out of her when she was seven, the one she remembered none of, their conversation, and Kallie coming through the door to find them talking. While his memories of the time were sharp and unaltered, Pepper’s felt… dull. Maybe that had been from the abrupt and severe shift between the two consciousnesses. She had certainly never received amnestics for this as a child. The only time she had ever received them at all had been when the prior location managers had retired.
“Pepper, don’t think about it too hard. It could be because of all of the magic I had to leash to that first meeting. I don’t want you to hurt yourself thinking about it.”
“Okay, I won’t. But you… you need to… I’m sorry, but do you have a name?”
“A name? Hmm. I imagine I did at one point. I don’t remember it now. Why is that relevant?”
“I’m not going to keep calling you Dead God all the time. I need a name to call you that’s subtle for the future when we’re around people without the clearance for this. Anyway, my question was, you did what to Councilman Strings?”
“Bound him to his word. To several words, actually.”
“He says that he bound him to his word? To several words?”
Pepper seemed to consult with the Dead God again, and Isaac once again gave her space. He could tell she was trying to collect as much information as she could on a question before passing the answer along, but that meant he was receiving some information that wasn’t relevant to the issue. It might seem like a simple answer, but it wasn’t fully relevant in that it inspired more answers than it actually gave.
“Does he remember what, exactly–” Isaac paused mid-statement, which was unusual, for him, and then frowned. Frowned almost through Pepper, although it was at her, too. It was not a disapproving frown, but rather, thoughtful, as if he’d been struck with an idea. He studied her face for a moment, as if looking for something, then seemed to find it.
“Pepper, may I speak with him directly? You can say no if the idea makes you uncomfortable, but second-hand memories are not conducive when trying to interpret Councilman Strings’s actions and decisions.”
“Either way, is there a name I can call the Dead God, rather than a title? Such a conversation may be more comfortable for both of us that way.”
Pepper visibly swallowed at Isaac’s request, but after a moment she nodded. She could do that. Well, she had never done it on command before, but she assumed it was as easy as breathing. Which she did, then, in long deep draws, as she closed her eyes. She leaned back in the chair so she wouldn’t fall over if something happened, and then she spoke to him again.
“Okay, this is you. Do whatever it is you do to take over.”
“Do you trust me, Pepper?”
“Right now? I mean… yes. Yes, I do.”
“Good. I’ll bring you back as soon as I can.”
“Bring me back?”
There was no answer from him. Instead, Pepper felt the weight of her body slip away, as though she was floating in water. Everything slipped away, and she found herself drifting, unattached to anything. She could no longer feel any part of her body. But when her eyes opened again, she could see.
He opened Their eyes. He sat up in the chair and looked around the room before finding Isaac’s face. He could feel the weight of Her body– Their body– as He stood up. He moved around to the back of the chair while He spoke.
“Please forgive me for standing. I prefer it to sitting.”
The voice that echoed across the room then was Pepper’s voice, but also many other voices. Some sang in song, and others whispered beneath the sound of others screaming. But at its center was still Pepper’s voice, soft and lilting, warm and comforting. The Dead God leaned across the back of the chair and grinned, a grin that wasn’t Hers, but was entirely His.
“You asked what you may call Me, if I had a name. Many years ago, Pepper took a team to meet Mikulass and Misha, before it was known what We are. They told Mikulass a story, one that I remembered. It was about the Titan Kronos, who was defeated by his son, Zeus. Pepper researched that story, later, and She found the names of the others who were consumed. I think it is only fitting that I be called the same name as the one who ruled over the land of the dead who was consumed by another. You may call Me Hades.”
He said this with a kind of glee that lit up Their whole face. Pepper had an energy about Her at all times, a readiness to move and to dance and to run– a happy energy. Hades had the manic energy of someone hyped up on caffeine and sugar for the first time in their life. There was a kind of gleam in His eyes that suggested a playfulness unbefitting someone known as the Dead God. He seemed, for all intents and purposes, a teenager who was getting to do something fun for the first time in many years.
The change was, more or less, as instantaneous as Pepper’s consent. The agent part of Isaac’s brain, which had been resting while Pepper visited, snapped back to attention as her body language shifted. It was subtle enough that, if he’d been asked to describe any one thing besides the motion to stand up, he likely could not have.
Not until she began to speak in a chorus of voices, anyway. Out of habit, Isaac’s face blanked as he listed, sifted through them, found Pepper’s voice under the chorus. Then, slowly, just as unconsciously, it relaxed as he studied the Dead God’s body language again, now that he was sure.
Standing was the mark of someone used to running, to being aware, and that matched the vibration of energy that came from the body he wore. The Dead God had been prey. Consumed. It was not an act of dominance, but an act of nervous awareness, possibly unconscious given the smile. Isaac could name any number of field agents who’d do the same, given the opportunity. Being in observation research and therefore accustomed to being fully unobtrusive, Isaac was not one of them. He did not need to be ready to run, to be ready to act. So he remained seated, with a nod.
“I understand,” was all he said in acknowledgement of the first part. Although it could have acknowledged the second part as well, but he knew enough about the Greek gods – and about potentially anxious anomalies – to nod along with that and smile, breaking the neutral expression.
“Hades is often treated as a villain by the stories, when, in reality, he’s a tragedy. The oldest brother tricked into the worst lot by the other two.” He nodded again, once, almost more of a lowering of his head, although his eyes never met the Entity’s. “I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you here, if I can help it. Strings is a slippery bastard. How, exactly, did you have him phrase the binding promise?”
Isaac was less concerned for the wellbeing of the Dead God – Hades – than he was for Pepper’s wellbeing in relation to him. There was the small factor of Foundational security, but that came second to figuring out the relationship with Strings, mostly because Strings was also tangled up into the Ira situation. SV-5 had a nasty habit of having his fingers in every Eldritch pie, somehow. And people tended to get hurt when he pulled them out again.
“‘I give you my word that I and mine will neither knowingly render harm to you or yours, so long as you and yours do the same, so long as this meetin’ shall last.’”
The voice that came out of Their mouth that time was different, a mimicry of the voice that once spoke to Them. A grin flashed across Their face as They did so, as though He were happy They were able to do it.
“‘Such are the guestin’ laws, such are bindin’, to such we may be bound as Host and Guest. I bind myself by Life and Name to my Word, if you do the same.’”
The god shrugged Their shoulders then, as He thought.
“I didn’t bind him to secrecy. I simply asked him at the end. I had already tried to direct too much power into that binding to try and bind him to secrecy. But he agreed when I told him not to tell anyone. I don’t suppose that he’s actually just a good guy and decided not to tell anyone because I asked? No, I expect the answer to that is no, given what I know now.”
While Hades spoke, He used Their eyes to look around wildly, like he wanted to see every inch of the room They were in. It was almost like He was looking for something specific, but couldn’t decide what thing it was. He seemed to be thinking about something as He looked, or maybe about multiple things, or maybe even about everything. Their eyes were wild, but eventually, they found their way back to Isaac, where they stayed put, almost as if locked in place. Their gaze was unwavering, hyperfocused as if They had found what They were looking for.
Their fingers moved, however, tapping in fast rhythmic patterns. It was as if He had to move, as if there was too much energy in Their body. In much the same way that Pepper had been doing unconsciously for the last twenty years, Hades let His emotions ride on the wind, a feeling of security and energy and a single note of fear, always lingering in the background.
“I suppose you’ll want to know what we talked about?”
In Isaac’s mind, the nervous energy took priority. It was only getting worse as time passed. That was a good indication that the Dead God was not used to being in charge, and that the conversation about the unpredictable and uncontrollable was only making his nerves worse.
Hades needed someone to be in control, because otherwise, he was going to bolt.
Isaac finally lifted his eyes, and held the entity’s gaze. When he blinked, it was unhurried, and he did not play dominance games with the eye contact. The soft green of his eyes was dull, but they were clear and understanding. He was no Cody when it came to people, but situations? Situation control was Isaac’s home territory, and so the role fit him like his armor.
“First, I would like to remind you that you are safe here, Mr. Hades.” His voice was calm, with a softness that came naturally to Isaac, that suited his stillness and the cast of his face that would be too clearly threatening in a rage. “The Foundation knows about you, and you’re part of one of my researchers. As I told Pepper, you aren’t in danger of permanent containment. If it’s the godbait you’re worried about, don’t. She’s harmless here.”
He paused, to give that space to process, but pressed on before objections could be made, because reassurances were usually not enough to combat anxiety and trauma. When he continued, it was with deadly seriousness.
“If she wasn’t, I would do everything in my power to help you and yours, because Pepper is one of mine. And if it’s Strings, he’s otherwise tangled up at the moment.” It was hard to break the habit of using that accurate metaphor, but it was what Dr. Hobbes used for security purposes. She’d also made it clear that the tangling was Council business, and so he wouldn’t be anyone’s problem despite growing concern around 1003. The moment SV-5 was loose, Levi would let Isaac know. Just in case.
Isaac knew, however, that he couldn’t offer direct protection against Strings the way he could the godbait. He would leave it to Hades to notice that, and in the meantime, turned toward the actual conversation subject. He did offer a little head-tilt of recognition at the sound of the foremost voice, not because he needed to, but because the action would convey louder than words that he had recognized it.
“You’re right. If he didn’t discuss something he wasn’t bound to keep to himself, there had to be ulterior motive. With him, I have no doubt it wasn’t harmful to the Foundation, because if he didn’t speak to someone about it, he would have acted on it himself and asked for forgiveness later. More likely, the information benefitted him more if he kept it to himself, for whatever long-term game he was going to play with it.”
“Even if I knew what he discussed with you, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I don’t play by the same rules that he does. If it will make you more comfortable for me to know and potentially work through it with you, I’ll happily help. Even if you just need it off your chest I’ll listen. If you’d like it to remain secret, you can keep it. The choice is yours - I won’t force you.”
Hades tried to relax Their body. He thought back to something Pepper had used to do as a child when She had to calm down in a way that dissipated energy. He took in a deep breath, and held it until Their lungs felt ready to burst. Then He breathed out. That helped Him some, but not nearly enough. But, in combination with Isaac’s promise, and not so promise, he felt calm enough to relax fully. He stayed standing, preferring the options it gave Him should anything try to harm Them.
“It’s hard to not be on guard. I spent every moment of my existence before Pepper constantly moving. Then, I had to sit and watch as others hurt Her. I didn’t have enough of a leash on Our power to do anything to help Her. I’ve learned that even when We trust, it doesn’t always mean We’re safe. Please forgive me.”
Their hands untightened from the chair, and Their gold eyes looked down at it. Thankfully, He had been enough in control to not damage the chair. Though He wondered if They could, right now. With Pepper fighting him, Their power was incredibly out of sync. That was something he would have to work on with Her. He spoke of trust misplaced to Isaac, and yet He couldn’t even get Pepper to trust Him when it was safe to. She would trust everyone but Him.
He packed that thought away for later.
“I don’t believe what we talked about would be of any use. Not really. So for now, that will be Our secret.”
He flashed a grin and leaned over the chair, crossing Their arms so they folded over the front. It wasn’t too hard to do, given Their height. He tapped Their fingers along the chair’s face.
“I will trust you for the sake of Her. She trusts you. That’s why she chose you to talk to, after all. So tell me what you need of me while I am here, and I will do my best to oblige.”
Hades relaxed and – imperceptibly – so did Isaac. He lost the air of hardened control he’d pulled around himself and was just… Isaac, again. His smile was just as real either way.
“No forgiveness needed, Hades. It’s my duty to make sure you are and feel safe.”
It was a good question. Isaac had originally intended to ask Hades a few follow-up questions, but if there was nothing to be done about the conversation with Strings, then there was nothing more to be done here at all. He didn’t like to waste time or energy, however. So he found the middle ground.
“As of right now, you’re off the hook for questioning. Don’t expect the same if this happens in front of Codes, though. But if you have questions for me – that, I think I can help with, as long as it’s nothing Pepper isn’t allowed to know already.”